How to shop in Germany: Tchibo
If you have spent any time in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic or Turkey you will most likely have come across one of Germany's most successful exports, Tchibo. Tchibo is essentially a high end coffee company, supplying coffee and accessories, but to say Tchibo is only about coffee would be a grave oversimplification. You see, Tchibo is actually the first store in history to be suffering a severe case of multiple personality disorder. This is due to the stores' policy of stocking a selection of weekly rotating products. In practice this means that on a weekly basis the shop changes out it's stock from fitness clothing, to garden furniture, to kitchen aids or to consumer electronics. While all this is going on, they still sell coffee. This also means that customers can never guarantee what they might get. You might enter a store wanting a cup of coffee, but you could easily leave with a full lycra bodysuit, a garden trowel, a last minute holiday and some extra sturdy window locks. Tchibo is all things to all men, it is legion, it is...hard to pin down.
Tchibo began as a mail order coffee company in 1949. Based in Hamburg, it was named by combining the name of it's founder, Carl Tchilinghiryan with the German word for coffee bean, Bohnen, hence Tchibo. The company has grown over the decades to be a stalwart of the German high street, where throngs of confused consumers can be seen leaving stores with a phone contract in one hand and an ironing board under the other. In a nod to its mail order past, Tchibo actually feels like a physical manifestation of a particular type of catalogue, the type that every grandparent seems to have in their home, but which is never used. These catalogues often sell items that at first appear useful, like a grabber stick or a device for opening jars, but when actually purchased these items are totally useless. It targets the type of shopper who has been exposed to too much Cash in the Attic.
Tchibo also has much in common with QVC and other similar TV shopping networks. By rotating the stock on a weekly basis, it goads consumers into making rash purchases from a fear of missing out on a bargain. The only difference is that I have yet to see a complete set of replica samurai swords on sale in Tchibo or a collection of terrifyingly realistic dolls. Despite selling such a wide variety of products, I have yet to speak to anyone who can give me an example of anything they liked at Tchibo except for the coffee. When I asked people last week, in preparation for this article, whether they liked Tchibo everyone said yes while kind of staring into the middle distance. I understood this look to mean “yea, I do like Tchibo, but I don't know why”. In fact, they were all clear to say how much they liked the coffee, but at the same time were hard pressed to mention any of the other items they had bought. Many just shrugged.
This confused me at first. Its mere presence on every German shopping street suggests it must be successful, but surely that can't be just from selling nice coffee. If they did actually sell any of the weekly changing stock in their stores, how come no one can actually remember anything else but coffee? The obvious conclusion is mass brainwashing. At some point between 1949 and 2016, Tchibo successfully brainwashed the whole of Germany into thinking that their shop was selling items that people actually wanted or even liked. Using the innate German desire to consume coffee, they lure customers in and with a quite simple, but universal store design, they sell whatever they happen to have in stock that week. The majority of Tchibo stores are small, the reasoning for this is that the smaller the store, the less likely the random selection of items will befuddle the customer to such an extent they accidentally leave. At the front of the store you will find the counter and coffee shop, at the back you will discover all the things you never needed. You might find a banana shaped box in which to carry your banana to work or perhaps that all important musical bottle opener. Maybe you need some LED candles or a mold to insure exact measurements of butter. All of these items have at one time been on sale at Tchibo.
How do I shop there?
First, you have to accept that you will be leaving the store with something useless, even with the best will in the world, you will not leave empty handed. For instance, the picture above is a just a few things I could find in my house from Tchibo, none of which I understand. You will notice that two of the items are still in their original boxes. This is not in the hope that they will be worth more in a couple of years, it's because they are rarely used and easily forgotten. What arcane dark magics Tchibo uses to confuse customers, no one knows, all I truly know is that I queued and purchased these items, sure in the knowledge that I would have a use for them, we don't. I, nor my wife, bake muffins, yet we have enough reusable cake molds to begin our own small scale baking company. I have never had a problem cutting apples, but at some point while in the confines of Tchibo I realised that an apple shaped apple cutter would solve all my apple cutting problems, when I got home, I remembered knives. The pedometer is useless and as for the green thing, I have no idea what that is or why the base is shaped like a leaf.
The best advice I can give a potential customer of Tchibo is try and buy something that you might actually use. Don't be tricked into buying that oversized gold meditating frog or an electronic dog barking device to scare burglars. My wife, a staunch defender of Tchibo (re: brainwashed), is adamant that bargains can be found, declaring I was a hypocrite as I had at least one pair of Tchibo socks in my wardrobe. So, if I can say anything about shopping there I would say; get the coffee, buy the socks, leave behind any plans to purchase the jogging parachute. Yes, I said Jogging parchute.
All you can really do when shopping in Tchibo is hope that they don't have anything too expensive on sale, best case you will awaken at home with six pairs of jogging trousers and a child’s rocking horse. You might end up buying useless tat, that will someday make up the majority of items at your car boot sale, but at least the coffee is good or so they tell me.